El Clasico Preview: Barcelona v Real Madrid
Jose Mourinho has changed his tune. Earlier this season the Real Madrid boss was surprisingly scathing about his team’s level of performance, including the memorable comment after a 1-0 defeat against Sevilla: “At the moment I don’t have a team.”
However, four consecutive victories since that dramatic evening in southern Spain have lifted his spirits, and he’s now in an ebullient mood as Los Blancos prepare for this season’s first league Clasico against Barcelona at the Nou Camp.
“I have confidence in my players,” Mourinho said. “But I always have confidence – even when we’re not playing well. When you are working well, obviously confidence improves. But I’ve been working in football for long enough to know that each game is different, and I have complete faith in the team.”
He was also quick to praise his squad for taking the responsibility to improve their form. “Our recent improvement is down to the players. They have realised that it was crucial to change a few things and be more focused. Now we’ve changed, things are easier.”
Most fans are regarding this as a must-win game for Madrid, who are already eight points behind Barcelona, but Mourinho insists he is viewing his team’s present situation differently and is more interested in the quality of performance than the result.
“Whether a draw would be a good result depends on the game. If we don’t have any chances and end up with a point, it’s good. But if we dominate the game, it would be bad. It depends,” he said.
“I am mainly concerned about putting in a good performance. We have made a significant improvement and want to reach the same level again that helped us win the title last season.
“The team is evolving and there are many months of the season remaining. But we want to reach last season’s level and maintain it as quickly as possible – that is our major preoccupation.”
The main selection dilemma for Mourinho lies in the attacking central midfield position, where Luka Modric and Mesut Ozil have struggled for form and the previously outcast Kaka came back into the reckoning with a strong performance against Ajax in Wednesday’s Champions’ League victory.
Mourinho was giving nothing away, saying: “I can’t say yet who will play but we shouldn’t create a drama whenever a player is on the bench. We have a lot of players and they can’t all play. But I can tell you that Benzema and Higuain won’t start together in attack – it will be just one of them.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Lionel Messi (Barcelona) – Has not scored in his last three outings, but has laid on four goals for teammates in that time and remains Barca’s focal point. Messi’s movement and dribbling ability make him almost impossible to mark effectively as Madrid have often found to their cost.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) – Back to back hat-tricks in a run of eight goals in his last four matches appear to have put the smile back on the face of Ronaldo – and his Madrid team-mates. His pace on the counter-attack will be key to his side’s hopes of victory tonight.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Valdes; Alves, Song, Mascherano, Alba; Busquets, Xavu, Fabregas; Pedro, Iniesta, Messi
Real Madrid (4-2-3-1): Casillas; Arbeloa, Ramos, Pepe, Marcelo; Essien, Alonso; Di Maria, Modric, Ronaldo; Benzema